It would be an understatement to call Jon Bernthal and Tom Holland two of the more in-demand actors in Hollywood right now. Both hot off pitch-perfect, fan favorite streaks in their respective Marvel universes and with more on the way, it’s notable that the two are now being seen together, on the big screen, in a very different sort of project.
That project is Pilgrimage, an austere, period epic that follows a group of 13th century monks tasked with transporting an ancient holy relic across a landscape riddled with enemies. Among the group is the Novice (Holland), a young and relatively altruistic monk and The Mute (Bernthal), who’s as stoic as characters get, uttering just one word for the entire duration of the film. It’s a gritty, bloody thriller with lofty ambitions, and features two incredibly impressive performances from its leads. Click here for my full review from Tribeca.
I had a chance to sit down with Bernthal and director Brendan Muldowney to talk about how Pilgrimage came together, the complications of shooting a period film on location, how they pulled off the film’s impressive gore effects, why Bernthal was so attracted to a character with next to no lines, how he went method for the role, and why he considers Tom Holland “one of the best actor’s [he’s] ever worked with”.
COLLIDER: I would love to just sort of start out by asking about the period aspect of this. I imagine achieving the style of this is mind-boggling in terms of the preparation and everything you need to do as an actor and you need to do as a director. I’d love to just hear about that process.
BRENDAN MULDOWNEY: Yeah, the writer did a lot of research, so he starts it, then I have to do my research, but he sort of truncated a lot of that for me. Then it comes down to all the different departments, the head of departments, and talking to all the actors, so I mean, it’s like any filmmaking process, it’s not a simple, quick thing, but once you take it every day at a time and each problem at a time, you just get through it.
JON BERNTHAL: I think we were really lucky to have a group of producers, a director, a writer, a crew and a cast who were enormously committed. Everybody was there for the right reasons, you know? And you don’t do a project like that for anything but the right reasons, because there are no other reasons, you know. And I think that the way in which we tackled it was literally going out to the most beautiful places on earth that were nowhere near any sort of civilization or sign of modern times, and that really does have an effect on you to not only work in it but live in it and to be in a place without internet, without access to the outside world and be together and be out in the elements, there’s nothing cushy about that job at all. So I think that really helped, it was a great group in a great place. Hopefully those two things kind of come out on screen.
How did it change things sort of shooting on location, especially with all this insane choreo – and how does that change it versus doing things like The Punisher, which I assume is much more controlled.
MULDOWNEY: Yeah, because Jon did a lot of work beforehand with the fight coordinator. You did a lot of work. While I was focusing on other things, I could just hear them screaming and shouting inside. But yeah, how did you find taking that to the location?
BERNTHAL: Great. I mean, look, then it becomes real. I think just like in anything with independent film, having your back against the wall and having a fire right under your ass, it’s tough, but it also helps and it means, we have got this afternoon to shoot this fight and that’s it and we’ve got to do it. So you can’t, like, any sort of the polite side of filmmaking really has to get out of the fucking way, and I think that, you know, for me also coming from a lot of TV fighting on Daredevil and stuff like that, I think that really helps it. It just makes the fight a little bit more like a fight and a little bit more unpredictable, and if things get messed up, just go and come at me and go hard, and I dig that. I think that the end fight scene, the stuff on the beach, we were literally, literally horrified. I thought we had a less than 50% chance that we were gonna make it that day all day, up until the very end.
MULDOWNEY: The sun was going down.
BERNTHAL: The sun was going down and we just didn’t have the money, it was that day or not. And ridiculously cold, you know what I mean? And hard, but I do think, I haven’t seen the film, but I hope that energy and that desperation, those are all kind of part of it.
MULDOWNEY: Yeah, and we never went into it thinking it was going to be very designed. I went into it wanting a loose, more visceral styling to the way it was shot. It was my only note. It’s the same with Savage as well, I wanted the violence to be messy. Like, have more of a feeling as closer to real violence than to real choreographed violence. Even though it obviously is choreographed, but to have a different feeling.
Where did the choice to go violent with it, go all the way, come from? Because I think, in this kind of subgenre, there’s not always that commitment to realistic gore.
MULDOWNEY: No, I understand, because I think that’s one of the, I would call it, the interesting things about the film and I definitely could see it from an outsider who goes, “Hang on, is it sort of like this serious profound drama or is it a B-movie with heads being split?” For starters, it was in the script, so I’m not taking responsibility, I went with that and I liked it. I would be a fan of violence in films that it has some repercussions. I’m not trying to be too preachy with it, but I like to see consequences and mess, rather than see violence where – I remember growing up and watching The A-Team, which I loved, I loved it, but there was never blood. It was sort of a lot of violence with no blood, and I’d be more on the side of, I like to see the repercussions of violence. Not necessarily wagging fingers, but violence is messy and that would be my thinking, and that’s probably why I went that route.